Klimaschutz : "We have a clear message, how much carbon is left"

Sir David King thinks, the climate will be saved with renewable energys, which are - thanks to the German power customers - competitive by now. But the global negotiations make him a bit worried. Interview by Dagmar Dehmer

In Bonn findet gerade eine Zwischenverhandlungsrunde über ein neues Klimaabkommen statt. Die Chefin des Bonner UN-Klimasekretariats, Christiana Figueres (links), posiert mit der deutschen Umweltministerin Barbara Hendricks (SPD).
In Bonn findet gerade eine Zwischenverhandlungsrunde über ein neues Klimaabkommen statt. Die Chefin des Bonner...Foto: dpa

What ist for you the most important message from the IPCC-report for the future climate policy?

One very important aspect is to pick up on the carbon budgets. We have a clear message now, how much carbon is left, to stay in a two-degree-range of global warming till the end of the century. That came from the first report. The second report pulled it’s punches on one aspect, that surprised me. The enormous subsidies paid out for the use of fossil fuels. That paragraph was removed from the first draft. But that would be one of the most important actions, that are required forward on this agenda, because right now 530 Billion Dollars a year are spent to subsidise fossil fuels and only 90 billion Dollars to subsidise renewable energies. Although we all want renewables to be the direction of development. The third report is always open for challenge. As soon as we get into economic analysis that attempts to go up to 2100 there will different views. That report will create more challenge than the first two reports, and that is a rather negative outcome.

It is always more controversial to talk about the options for mitigation, so the third report was always the most controversial. What I found striking in the third report is, that we lost 20 years and now do not really have the choice any more to say, there are certain technologies, we do not like carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Right. I think the loss of 20 years, and the tardiness of the negotiation process is part of that loss, is well outlined there. The notion, that if we spend a dollar in the transition today this would be 20 dollars, if we lose another six years till after 2020, to have the same effect. This is an important statement. We could still manage it, but we would have to do it now.

"The cost for renewables came down substantially"

The analysis needed perhaps to clarify that there has been a lot of progress. I do not think, this has been on a standstill for 20 years. In a sense that we had progress since Germany began with feed-in-tariffs back in 1991 and the feed-in-tariffs spread over Europe in Spain, Czech or Britain. And the result of the feed-in-tariffs has been that the cost of installation of photovoltaic energy in particular but also onshore wind came down very substantially. That is the most important change in the world. I think we are now in a situation in which the roll-out of renewable energy when it comes to the cost per kilowatt of installation is almost on parity with coal and gas in all those countries that have sufficient sun and wind. In that sense we made an enormous progress and that should be emphasized much more.

But surprisingly many world leaders still think, renewables are no sufficient energy, they still think big.

Part of my job as special representative for climate change for the foreign minister is precisely to get these messages out to the world leaders. For example in India amongst the leadership I got a very good response to this. Rajastan is a big desert area, a perfect area for sun parks to produce electricity. They have enough space there to produce electricity for the next couple of hundred years. In India there is an understanding for this. They are building a two-gigawatt-solar-powerstation in Rajastan. But they are worried about baseload electricity which is exactly the same story for example in South Africa. They have the Kourou desert and plenty of sunshine there. And they feel they got to concentrate on more big baseload electricity. What is required here, and I am pushing this very hard, is a major efford at developing large scale energy storage facilities, because then baseload electricity can be provided by intermittent sources of energy. This is the most important area for investment by both the public and the private sector.

Sir David King is the Foreign Secretary's Special Representative for Climate Change in Britain.
Sir David King is the Foreign Secretary's Special Representative for Climate Change in Britain.Foto: promo

In Germany we feel, that storage is not our most pressing issue now. What should be the immediate action coming out of the IPCC-report?

Let me stay a moment with the storage issue. That is immediate action. And I would like to see that as an outcome of the climate summit of the Secretary General of the United Nations in September in New York. We talk about a ten year programme of a kind of the Appollo programme a major international efford to create a storage programme. That would create some competition between the countries in the development of storage to do this in the shorter term. I see that as an urgent measure. We need to come to the point where countries can provide baseload energy as cheap as gas and coal but far most savely for their population. I think as soon as we come to the point, when this becomes economically viable we are on the way to solve the global problem.

In Germany we see that rather as a mid-term problem. The interesting options like power-to-gas are not there yet, they need more development. That would be the one option that could use an existing infrastructure.

That is exactly the problem with most storage solutions right now. We need finance available to take new technologies to deployment that they can be tested just like it happened with the feed-in-tariffs for photovoltaiks. We need to create a significant fund to try these storage solutions in the markes.

"Worldwide emission trading systems are developed"

This and the global budget discussion only can get forward if we get a global price for CO2. Or do you think we could get there without?

Well, I suppose, my feeling is, that the pricing system of CO2 is only coming about when we get a significant number of pricing systems in different nations around the world. China now has its five major provinces moving into a cap-and-trade-scheme. The British government has been heavily involved in creating that system. California and Quebec are now connecting their cap-and-trade-schemes. We see these different systems emerging and inevitably they will have different prices. At some point in the future it could be the WTO stepping in saying we can not have ten different prices for CO2. And some point this might merge into a single cap-and-trade-scheme. But I think that is quite a long way off. I do not think we can not further move along the Kyoto-process with a kind of top-down-approach. 197 signitures on a document that imposes a cap-and-trade on every country because democracy is not going to function in that way.

The IPCC in its third report made it very clear that without an international agreement it will not work.

Yes and I already indicated my reservations on this report. The Kyoto-process was a long hard journey and we need to learn the lessons from it. For me the lesson is: Don’t override national democratic intensions. You just cannot simply order countries to work into a system. That is not how governments work. So we need to move into a system where it is cheaper to produce a kilowatthour electricity with renewable sources and sufficient storage than with coal or gas. Without even carbon pricing.

"The Climate summit in Lima is even more important"

Maybe we anyway should be reparing out European carbon pricing system?

It is worth to see why our European carbon pricing system needs reparing. The price is very low and certainly not high enough to bring about change. Governments introduces regulations and obligations for the future and the carbon pricing cannot be relied on. We need to examine why the countries in Europe still did not fix it. The reason is simple. No leadership of a country has an appetite for higher carbon prices. And even the leadership in the big nations like Germany, France, Italy, Britain – there is no real appetite amongst the democratic leaders to support a carbon tax or incease the cap. Because we have a financial crisis and in this time economic growth is the most important topic for the political leaders. In the lack of a carbon price we should move to regulation. For me that is the way forward.

What do you expect from the climate summit in Paris 2015?

The meeting in Lima this year must be seen as even more important than the meeting in Paris. Otherwise we go into another rail-crash like in Copenhagen. We need to go to heads-off agreements and than we have a year to sort out the details. I just had my second grandson, and I am a little worried.